Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Foretelling the Future (For the Summer)

Well, hello there.

Blah, blah, blah. Et cetera et cetera... et alius...

Wait, I was going to say something, I think. Let's see... Well, first thing I don't think I'll have another review out before May, so I kind of feel bad about that. I was going to review 12 Monkeys, but I literally have no time recently. So, after I get less busy in early May that's a review to expect. I'm also probably going to be doing a review of The Binding of Isaac. If you haven't heard of it, look it up. I also, as the picture above I hope implies, would very much like to go through my library of Silent Hill games and give second or first impressions on all of them. Silly, but I do love me some Silent Hill. I'd actually like to see if my impressions of certain games have changed, especially The Room and Silent Hill 3. I'll see.

I'd love to do a review of the second Harry Potter book as well, but heaven help me, I don't want to do that. I'll probably force myself at some point. I really want to do some other book reviews as well, mostly F. Paul Wilson books and maybe some recent Stephen King entries. Hell, I've been piecemeal writing a review of the first Dark Tower novel, and I'd love to review the whole damn series including the graphic novels. It's been killing me because I've had no time to reread them or to review them. I'm making a sad face right now. I think this is especially timely because the next Dark Tower book is coming out soon, calling itself The Wind Through the Keyhole, and I'm hella looking forward to that (I can use "hella" as a word in my sentences. That is allowed. By me.).'

As for video games besides The Binding of Isaac and Silent Hill, well... uh... I don't have many lined up. I'll probably rereview Mass Effect 3 once the DLC comes out, to see if it actually fixes anything. I'm optimistic, but not overly optimistic... not stupidly optimistic. And I'll probably give a final review of Dragon Age II, since nothing else in coming into that game. There are no games coming out soon that I'm interested in at all, except maybe Resident Evil 6 and an interesting first-person stealth game called Dishonored. Maybe Bioshock: Infinite even though I really kind of disliked Bioshock and its sequel. I don't know. That game looks interesting, just not as interesting as Dishonored looks. There's also The Last Guardian if it ever actually comes out. I'll play the hell out of that game. I loved Shadow of the Colossus and I've bee slowly going through Ico more recently. Dragon's Dogma also looks interesting, but I'll wait and see for that one.

As for movies, anything can happen. I may get a very quick review of The Cabin in the Woods up if I see it this weekend. It's always a possibility. Gotta keep up some kind of social life, you know? So, yeah... those are all things that you readers out there can and should look forward to even if my output is fairly slow normally. Sorry about that if anybody actually cares enough to have me apologize for it. College and being premed makes my life kind of busy at the moment. And that's really never going away either, kind of sadly.

Anyway, besides that, I'm done writing. I have to go to a lab wherein I deal with Nuclear Radiation because that's how I roll. That's how this reviewer gets his rocks off, playing around with radiation. I have to admit I love the radiation, rolling around in it, stuffing it up my nose and sniffing until my nose actually and literally falls off. (I'm being dryly sardonic by the way. Just to point that out. I have a strange sense of humor, and I'd rather not have people actually believing that I roll around in radiation because that's not a fun way to think at all.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Dragonheart (1996)

Dragonheart is one of those movies that I grew up on. I mean, sure, I was all of seven when it came out, but I still saw this movie in a movie theater. Oh, yes indeed, I did. And I absolutely loved it back then. Recently at a book fair, I found the DVD of this movie, bought it, and watched the whole thing for the first time in years. How does it hold up for a huge fan of it when he was seven? Well, let's see.

I have to say that I love this movie up and down. It's a fantasy film that works in every conceivable way. It has a freaking dragon, who's actually a good guy. It has a knight that actually acts and seems like a knight. It has a tough '90's-styled female character who can take care of herself despite this movie taking place in 984 in England. Hell, it even looks really good. The CGI, although early CGI, is actually ridiculously good and works better than it ever should have. Oh, and the movie even has a message to take home, that the guy that you think you know may just be an absolute jerk and you might not know it.

Dennis Quaid is so good in this movie as Bowen. I mean, I'm certainly not the biggest fan of Dennis Quaid, but he was great in Pandorum and he's fantastic in this movie. I could watch him running around getting into trouble all day long. Hell, give me a series based off of him doing stuff, and I'd be ridiculously happy. Sean Connery shines as Draco the dragon. His voice coming out of the dragon's mouth, just seems to work against all logic and rational thought. And I love it. Pete Postlethwaite plays Brother Gilbert, a somewhat poetic traveling monk who helps Bowen at various points in the adventure. He is seriously amazing in the movie, showing off both seriousness and comedy. And the best part is that both make sense when it comes to the character. Dina Meyer plays Kara, the tough female of the movie, and she's very fun to watch at times even if her character's motivation can be summed up by nothing more than It's the 1990s! Julie Christie and David Thewlis also star as the mother of the king and the King of the kingdom in the movie. David Thewlis shines as the villain of the piece. He really does a great job at making the watcher hate him.

Anyway, the movie is a typical fantasy story about rebels taking over a kingdom with the help of a dragon. There's some good morality, some '90s humor, very good characterizations and acting, a great soundtrack, and in general one of the best tones from any movie that I grew up on. I mean, the film really does hold up quite well even after sixteen years. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it again, laughing at bits, feeling sad at other bits, and I simply had a great time reliving the experience of watching it.

This movie is one that I can certainly recommend to anybody who's willing to watch it with an open-mind. It was a good kid's movie back in my day (even though it's rated PG-13), and I think it works as a kid's movie just as much as The Lord of the Rings does. The humor and brilliant storytelling would really make any child look up at this film and be interested. It really is one of the movies that defined my childhood. Hell, along with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Aladdin, and Jumanji it is probably one of the best movie memories of my childhood.

Anyway, this isn't going to be a long review. Not much more I can say. It's a standard fantasy film that works incredibly well, and looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. This movie is the very definition, for me, of what a fantasy film should be along with The Lord of the Rings and maybe Willow.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Video Game Assessment: Silent Hill: Downpour (2012)

Oh, boy. A new Silent Hill game. I'm willing to say that I was cautiously looking forward to this game, hoping for two things in particular: First that the game was nothing like Alan Wake, and second that it was as far removed from Silent Hill: Homecoming as possible, because that game was terrible. I guess before I get into the review proper, I'm going to say what I like about Silent Hill as a series and which games I prefer to others. I mean, sure, I have some reviews on some of the games, namely Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 4: The Room, and Silent Hill: Ørigins, but you're not reading those reviews, you're reading this one.

I loved Silent Hill 2, and, to me, it is one of the best video games of all time. No, the voice acting is not amazing. Yes, the game is eleven years old! It's an early PS2 era game, but it is fantastic and compelling in basically every single way. It has a story that I do not think any modern game can match. It has an emotional level that has rarely, if ever, been met before in other games. That being said the graphics are PS2 graphics and shouldn't be great, but they are used effectively to create, in my opinion, the scariest game of all time. Silent Hill 4 is one of my favorite games, creepy and compelling, with a great story that feels meaningful despite the premise with the cult. It comes off as a fantastically done game in many ways despite what most "fans" think of it. It remains my second favorite Silent Hill game. The most recent entries into the  Silent Hill series though have been different. Homecoming was... well, it was not a very good game at all, focusing too much on combat  and not enough on horror or a compelling plot or characters. In general it felt goofier than creepy and was a glitch-ridden, confusing jumble of a game at times. I never finished it simply because I had such a bad taste in my mouth while playing it. Shattered Memories went in a completely different direction with Silent Hill as a series, being clearly outside of the continuity, but not necessarily a bad game. It had some interesting set pieces and ideas, but ultimately failed at being scary or compelling in much needed ways. It was a very mediocre game and certainly tells part of the tale of Silent Hill after the disbanding of Konami's Team Silent. Most of the games after that disbanding were either messes or woefully mediocre and gimmicky in the weirdest ways.

That being said, I was looking forward to Downpour in the strangest way. I mean, Mass Effect 3 was certainly dominating my mind at the time, but Downpour was sitting in the back of my mind, tickling it, making me think about it. And I was, especially after I finished the rushed mess that was Mass Effect 3, really looking to cleanse my mind with a new game, hopefully a great game in Silent Hill: Downpour.

And... well, it delivered.

Yes, this is an actually really good modern Silent Hill game! Yay, rejoice ye masses! There are some problems, certainly, with the game, but it is an incredibly solid entry in not only the series, but in horror video games in general. I was hoping for a decent game, better than the last three ones that have come out, and... let me say, I definitely received that. It seems as if Downpour took the best pieces of the last three games and put them all together along with a lot of bits and pieces from earlier games as well. But even while saying that the game remains itself, never feeling like any of the other games in the series, wholly standing on its own. It works as a narrative, as a video game, and as a new and brilliant piece of the Silent Hill pie.

And it's weird. It's unlike all the other Silent Hill games. It feels like a nextgen (now current gen) Silent Hill game, something that the last three entries in the series have not felt like at all. Hell, Homecoming looked so much worse than Silent Hill 3 for instance, and that shouldn't happen. I'm not always into screaming about looks in a video game (I loved Deadly Premonition remember.) I still feel as if the next entry in a series should look better or at least on par with previous entries. Downpour  takes a few years of fantastic games and really uses them to its advantage.

It has a story that is brilliant, easily the best story in the series since Silent Hill 2, which makes it the second best story. Now, I'm not going to compare the game much to Silent Hill 2 because I think that's unfair to both. Downpour is taking and has taken a real chance in its type of horror in this gaming generation. It is trying to feel like older horror games without being them. And as the industry has basically said that horror is dead... well, yes, Downpour has tried to show the industry it isn't quite. And this is a great thing! It was an incredibly effective game despite the critics (Critics are always wrong, remember?) giving it low scores. I mean, it easily stood up better than most games I've played within the last few years. It's easily much better than Mass Effect 3 for example. And that shouldn't have happened. That shouldn't even be a thing... and yet... there you go.

I'm probably only making some sense, but I don't even care. Call grammatical mistakes and spelling errors excitement over a great Silent Hill title that really made me happy. I mean really the undignified kind of happy too... the kind of happy that no grown man should ever be at a video game. The story is superb, although somewhat predictable. I say somewhat because in essence there are two stories going on, and you only ever have the hint at the first one. And that first story is solved fairly "early" on in the game, easily a good while before the endgame. And both stories are compelling and interesting.

"Compelling." I keep using that word because it is the perfect descriptor. The story dragged me into it kicking and screaming. It showed me a darker world, but one all too close to our own. It showed me a protagonist that had reasons for being the kind of character he was. It showed characters with motivations beyond "Oh, town is screwed up, better do something about it, I suppose." Each character was compelling, even the characters with limited screentime. How often does that happen? There is a fleshing out of both characters and, in my opinion, the enemies themselves, leading to some awesome debates on exactly what Downpour is about. Hell, I love the debates about the nature of Silent Hill as a town and as an entity, just as much as I love plot and character debates. And this game brings them all out to the surface, something that really hasn't happened since The Room, and even in that game the debates are rather limited as nothing really takes place in Silent Hill proper.

I loved a great deal about this game, finding it basically superb all the way through. It was enjoyable and also incredibly tense at times, which I absolutely loved, but it did something that few other Silent Hill games save the second did, which was it encouraged me to learn about the story, to dive deeper into the game and the town. I wanted to learn more, to play more, to be creeped out... it drew me into it just as much as it drew Murphy Pendleton, and I love that.

So, let's talk about certain aspects of the game, leaving characters and story as superb pieces of the game. First the voice acting and music. The voice acting is incredibly well done, especially from Murphy himself, Anne, and Sewell. They all did a great job at creating characters with emotional depth and range. Murphy was kind of the highlight, but that probably mostly because he was a COMPELLING protagonist, one that felt like an actual character, something that VERY FEW of the Silent Hill games actually did get right beyond Silent Hill and Silent Hill 3. I loved his little quips. Hell, I love the acting in general. Really well done. The music, for the first time in the series, was not done by Akira Yamaoka, but rather by Daniel Licht, known for his music on Dexter, a show I've actually never watched. Anyway, Licht creates an incredibly interesting atmosphere for this game, wholly fitting and really awesome all around. It's very different from Yamaoka, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The soundtrack certainly has memorable pieces of its own and works when placed with the game. I really dug it, feeling that it was certainly on par with Yamaoka's work in the previous games.

Another thing I have to mention is the game's theme: rain/water. It is interesting. Most of the games... hell, ALL of the other games save for Shattered Memories have had the exact same theme in Silent Hill: a foggy Otherworld and a fiery gears, fans, and metal Nightmare World. This game does it differently, and I love it. I love it so hard. I disliked all of the games have the same kind of imagery when coming from different character's points of view, and this game shows that Murphy is wholly unique, and I love that. Man, is that awesome. It stands up nicely against Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 for best imagery in the series overall. The rain rather than fog is so amazing, and I, for one, have to say that I grew terrified every time it started Downpour-ing outside. Heh. The clockwork imagery and the slides were also well done. And... well, the movement of doorways and the unsettling, at times, use of seeing things out of the corner of the screen... well, I think it was beautifully done all around. One thing that really stuck out in my mind was early on. I was just leaving the first Nightmare World section only to have a door melt behind me while I wasn't looking. I went through the door in front of me, only to find that when I went back through the door the entire room had changed. Little things like that (It wasn't a plot specific room and I had no reason to go back into it.) felt like there was a great amount of attention to details, something I appreciated. Hell, it's part of the reason I'm writing this review out so thoroughly, spending the time and effort needed to say JUST HOW GOOD THIS GAME IS.

It is not a modern-styled game though. I have to point that out again. Often there is NO indication of where you are supposed to go next or what you're even supposed to be doing. When I looked in my journal after entering Silent Hill, I found nothing but a little note tell me to "Escape Silent Hill." Well, that's specific, I thought. But I liked it. There was no hand-holding, and it upped the tension because I never really knew any more than Murphy did. It made me experience the game along with him. I know a lot of current gamers might think that is a bad thing to do, but... well, it's how it was done in the past. I don't see why it can't be done that way now. It works, creating an atmosphere and everything else, why not implement it?

The sidequests are kind of new to Silent Hill, but they work decently well. I inadvertently skipped most of them simply by searching the town and find the places I needed to go for the main story, but the sidequests that I did do were fine, sometimes even very well done in places. I was happy with them, and they never felt out of place or got in the way of the experience of playing. So, a net positive overall.

I liked how there are also very different ways to interpret the last portion of the game, and I like that. I like that a lot. I won't spoil it, but I feel there could be multiple levels of complexity on the last twenty percent of the game or so. I found it really well done.

I... I think that's enough of me saying how great the game is, now I'll talk about some of the negatives and, there are a few, sadly. The first that I noticed is that there are graphical issues from time-to-time, enough to be noticeable and... really not good while playing the game. I had my game slow to a crawl more than once... while monsters were on screen chasing me at that. I... I really didn't like that. It took me right out of the game. It mostly only happened in the earlier part of Silent Hill itself, but it was a big problem in those areas. Another issue would be the game pausing (like three times in the game, but still) to give me decision for Murphy to make. I could be a good guy or a jerk in those decisions... and it really took me right out of the game to see Murphy's big dumb face contemplating the decision of whether or not to be a jerk while the choice of two buttons hovers next to his head. Wow, I did not like that. Some of the chase sequences in the Nightmare World dragged on a bit, and since I was never incredibly fond of them... well, I wasn't thrillingly happy about it. The final boss was silly, but I liked it for being silly even if it wasn't incredibly Silent Hill. I don't know... I kind of wish it was a bit more intuitive as a whole, but I guess that's fine.

I guess the last negative would be my biggest gripe, and probably the one that is the most meaningful to me. Although the game started out with some genuine scares... and had some creepy moments throughout, I found it atmospherically less scary all around than most of the other games. The gameplay itself had some scary moments, but the GAME itself had very few. I guess I found Silent Hill 2 actually really creepy and was hoping for much of the same in Downpour. Then again, I found Silent Hill 2 creepy when I was fifteen/sixteen years old... and well, maybe I'm simply not as scared by video games in the same way as I used to be. So, it might not be Downpour's fault entirely. I thought it had an effective atmosphere, just not one that scared my pants off, which is what I wanted.

Anyway, those are small annoyances more than hugely negative aspects of the game. Downpour is really well done and holds up as a modern video game and as a Silent Hill game no matter what the critics and reviews think. I think this is an incredibly solid game all around and I hope others see it the same way. Check it out if you like horror, video games... or... or me, I guess? I guess do it for me...? Yeah, that makes sense. Do it for a person you probably don't know on the internet who reviews things sometimes for random people. That makes a ton of sense.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Paprika (パプリカ) (2006)

I saw Paprika recently and wanted to give out a review of it.

And then things got weird.

So, this movie... this movie... I really liked it a ton, entirely reminiscent of Inception (although obviously this movie was made first and Inception certainly seems as if it took elements from this movie as well) and some of Miyazaki's films too. I don't know a lot of anime films, so I would not call myself any sort of expert on these things. Hell, animated films in general are really not my thing... although that hasn't stopped my girlfriend from going and making me watch cutesy animated movies rather than the horror I so want to watch.

*sigh* All of that being said, and as much as I complain, this is a really incredibly complex and interesting movie. It's also really strange. It took me so long to understand even what was going on. The film moved so much faster than my brain could process. At ninety minutes it's not a very long film either, but it has a ton of information to give it.

The plot of the film is eerily reminiscent of Inception. There are dream terrorists and a device (called a DC Mini) used to get inside other people's dreams. It's all about dreams, folks! And it works well. I have to say that certain characters worked really well with my personal favorite being the obese Doctor Kōsaku Tokita, the inventor of the device and, strangely, the male love interest. I have to say that I loved how that was handled. It was cute and worked well. Paprika herself is so incredibly confusing, some kind of alter ego of the female lead character Doctor Atsuko Chiba. There's also a detective who seems to have the strangest dream of all and a few other characters besides. All in all the cast is well put together, each character different, distinct, and well-handled from beginning to end.

The plot though... well, it's labyrinthine to say the very least. It involves a malignant dream affecting regular people's dreams. And then it starts getting weird with... uh... eventually dreams and reality merging together. There's a weird piece of the plot involving the chairman of the company who happens to be the root of the malignant dream, but in all honesty I found that piece of the plot so confusing and nonsensical that I just put it up there with the film being anime. Maybe it made sense, but I was paying attention and I have no idea why some godlike root creature has created a malignant dream to take over reality or something. It seemed really contrived in all honesty and a bit of a cop-out. I was reminded incredibly heavily of Princess Mononoke at the final confrontation between the female lead and the Chairman. That's not exactly a compliment coming from me as I did not like the end of Princess Mononoke.

That being said, yes there are some weaker negative aspects of the movie, but they are often overshadowed by the more positive sides of the movie with the characters and the dream elements. I thought those items within the film worked incredibly well. One scene that worked amazingly well was when a character who seemed to be good and then was found out to be working for the Chairman, Doctor Morio Osanai, who basically sexually molests Paprika within the dream world and then tears her away to reveal her alternate persona underneath. There is something incredibly visceral about that scene. It was difficult to watch and incredibly effective at showing the weight of what was happening. Even with the confusing plot, the scene was incredibly well done. Hell, when the detective enters the dream to save Chiba, I was on the edge of my seat, really not knowing what would happen next. I had never expected such dark things to come out of what, in my mind, is essentially a children's movie. (I suppose I didn't quite know that this movie wasn't exactly a children's movie when I saw it. I wasn't expecting the nudity, the blood, and the darkness within.)

In general the movie works quite well as long as the plot isn't looked at too closely. The music and the voice acting is incredible with the music being incredibly strange, and that one song, the song of the malignant dream, being a personal favorite song of mine even compared to other movies. The creepy doll that keeps showing up really adds tension to the movie as well. It keeps reappearing in scenes, eventually becoming a major antagonist on its own.

So, yeah, I liked this movie and I recommend it. It's short and really fun to watch even if the plot is kind of all over the place and half the time I had no idea who the characters were or what their motivations were or anything. I get the feeling that rewatching the movie would allow me to have a deeper understanding of what it is about. And it's a plus that I'm even considering rewatching it.